Archive for May, 2015

Broadcast journalism pioneer and icon Bob Schieffer hosted his last Face the Nation program and retired from CBS News today. Also this week Mick Ferrari, higher education giant and former TCU Chancellor, passed away. Both enabled opportunities and careers for so many students and others who had the good fortune to cross paths with them at this grand university.

It was in this environment I learned to advise my students to always send a thank you note to every interesting person they meet. Never ask them for a job. Rather ask, “Could I please schedule a few minutes of your time to learn more about what you have learned?” While there also ask, “Could you suggest others I might meet with, and do you mind if I mention that you suggested I talk with them?” One contact leads to another, which leads to still another… and on and on. Before you know it your world will have been enlarged in miraculous ways, and opportunities for projects and even jobs will open to you along the way.

For those students and others who demonstrated above average initiatives, Bob Schieffer enabled contacts with giants in the media, in government, in politics and at think tanks in Washington. Contacts led to contacts and many high level careers followed. This happened both at CBS, and TCU.

Chancellor Ferrari consciously enabled this kind of relationship-building for those around him who demonstrated potential for more responsibility. As a matter of course, his associates would meet other leaders in higher education, education associations, foundations, corporations and individual philanthropists. Careers were enlarged. Opportunities followed.

Both of these giants meant more to me than I can say. I spent this week in deep contemplation about how they made themselves so accessible to so many. Ferrari’s journey is over. But Schieffer’s will continue on in many new and exciting ways. It will be fun to see what comes next.

The key lesson for me in all this is that enabling larger opportunities for talented students and colleagues can be the most satisfying thing a person can do.

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Information transparency sounds like a wonderful idea. After all, what could be wrong with making everything public?

There are at least two problems: (1) This new media era of “Big Data” can overwhelm and confuse, and (2), people tend to hear only what they want. Too many are just waiting to prepare aggressive counter attacks, and with all available data in hand they can support almost any argument.

Philosophically I actually support the idea of transparency. However, especially when it comes to sensitive issues and crises, making all the data public too often becomes counter-productive. Flooding a new media environment with “big” data can create “media circuses,” where media outlets compete with each other for new facts that can gain them the upper hand and keep the story hot. Even a good “side story” can fulfill this competitive need.

Experiences teaches that in the case of institutions, and even some individuals, it is better to limit communication to those facts that explain exactly what actually happened. Assuming your brand identity is already well established, your strategy should be to release exactly what happened, what you are doing about it, and how this reinforces your basic values.

Transparency is a great idea. But in our digital technology age releasing everything can actually  generate confusing clutter, add to misunderstanding, and give adversaries all they need to support almost any opposing ideology.

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Anticipating the upcoming primaries, it is only natural that I would be wondering if this election season will be any better than the last. I would hope that many past candidates are now ashamed of much of what they said and the mean-spirited tone of their attacks. Whatever happened to agreeing to disagree?

Not too long ago my I-phone dictionary app greeted me with the word of the day “malarkey!  It is defined  as “speech or writing designed to obscure, mislead; ‘bunkum’…  as in “the claims are a lot of malarkey.”

As we prepare for a new primary season, let’s hope that there will be a minimal amount of malarkey. Processing it is a huge challenge for every media consumer. It feeds polarization and fuels extremism. When repeated over and over it is eventually accepted as true by too many partisans. And as it builds momentum it erases any chance of compromise, and can lead to hostility… and even anarchy.

What makes it worse is that technology today spreads malarkey so rapidly that many thoughtful people become overwhelmed and disgusted election dropouts. The world becomes so cluttered with conflicting  information that it is often impossible for even intelligent people to distinguish fact from fiction. Therefore, too many of them are dropping out simply because they think there are no decent choices.

Every day, understanding the consequences of media revolutions is becoming more and more essential to the survival of a civil society.

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I began studying media in the 1960s when television was overtaking print as the dominant medium in society. It was soon apparent that TV was drawn to the dramatic and that camera framing, angles and movement; editing; close-ups; special effects; selective image montage; and other tactics could enhance the drama. Small demonstrations could look big and threatening. Isolated disasters could look huge and overwhelming. We learned that images of real life could actually be misleading. Indeed, TV had the power to become its own reality.

When digital and satellite technology added instant communication from all corners of the globe, video images of earthquakes, floods, avalanches, ice storms, blizzards, volcano eruptions, tsunamis, dramatic rescues, devastated cities, terrorist bombings, beheadings, street shootings, destructive fires, mud slides, droughts, train derailment, police brutality, endless political polarization, shopping center attacks, school shootings, threats of sleeper terrorists, and more, became a steady stream of horribly dramatic images of destruction and trauma all day long… every day!

Even weather reporting has entered this new instant digital technology era. New radar technology enables local weather reporters to use graphics and dramatic talk about potential severe weather to have people worried and glued to updates all day long.

I have lived in Texas almost 50 years. Every spring has been a time of unstable weather. Many days there would be storms in the area and we would watch for them to develop. But we went about our days fairly normally, sometimes driving through dramatic down-pours that would pop up.. Once in a while a tornado warning was issued for our neighborhood and we would have a tense night hoping we would be spared. Three times we had roofs replaced because of hail, and sometimes a tornado would pass nearby. A few pictures the next day would prove it. And then life went on normally.

Today, dramatic approaches to reporting keep many people nervously glued to reports all day.  A 20% chance is comforting, but a 40 to 50% chance can produce day-long anxiety. And there is almost always some level of chance of severe storms to warn about. And to make matters even more emotional, new technology enables instant images of the destruction that has just occurred, as well as ongoing video of the most dramatic examples of damage, flash flooding, overflowing streams and lakes, and emotional stories about the people who have lost everything. And those stories can go on for days while even more predictions of severe weather threats continue.

If you add all these daily images of a world in crisis to a constant threat of destruction of one kind or another in your neighborhood, what is the overall impact on the human psyche? Do you feel more fortunate to be alive? Is all this crisis information important to you? Do you feel better prepared now for personal crises? Or, are you joining those who are experiencing a growing overall lingering sense of anxiety.


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Once again we have questions emerge about freedom of speech in a digital world. First in Paris with terrorist attacks on a magazine which was exercising its freedom to publish cartoons offensive to Muslims,  and now in Garland, Texas with an art exhibition.

In Texas the situation was an invitation to artists to exhibit their work, even if their images  were offensive to Muslims. For some it was a matter of defending their right to express whatever they want whenever they want. One artist said he only decided to show his work after he heard that extreme Islamists said he could not. But for others holding this event at all was simply a matter of bad judgment. It would amount to a challenge to extremists and a danger to the lives of innocent people.

Freedom of speech today operates in a world where digital media produces powerful emotional images and instant international threats. In such a new world should the intent and potential consequences of free speech be reexamined? For example:

*Is freedom of speech absolute?

*Does one person’s freedom permit endangering the lives of others?

*Do extremist groups such as ISIS calling for “lone wolf” attacks in countries constitute a “clear and present danger” enough to impose certain temporary restrictions?

*Or, should there be stronger public appeals for individuals to volunteer speech restrictions during such periods of danger.

As a communication consultant I would advise a “client” to let good judgment about safety override absolute speech freedom during those times when lives are clearly in danger. The digital world is a totally new and hostile one with the capacity to instantly ignite violence.

In such a world it is not at all contradictory to simultaneously assert a strong belief in the freedom of expression while at the same time suspending it temporarily for the sake of public safety.

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